What was it like living in Victorian Britain? A picture paints a thousand words and a high resolution photograph of a busy street scene from a magic lantern slide helps us to step back in time and see it for ourselves. Today’s slide of The Briggate in Leeds, Yorkshire, was taken by James Valentine, one of the UK’s finest Victorian photographers, probably in the 1890s. It is bustling with activity ….. pedestrians, horse and carts, horse pulled buses and trams, a policeman on point duty (traffic control) etc.
Shop signs can be interesting as some trades have disappeared altogether and some current ones couldn’t have even been imagined one hundred and twenty years ago. The signs in this photo include ‘Bean and Sons, Depot of Educational Apparatus and Books’; Bean, Lamb and Bean, Herbalists’ and the ‘Albion’, which I think is a hotel. The horse bus, bottom right, is going to ‘Kirkstall and Hunslet’. The road isn’t surfaced and vehicles’ lane discipline seems to be lacking.
Another interesting aspect of old photos is the architecture. When walking in a city, most of us look at eye level to avoid colliding with other pedestrians but looking up can be rewarding as, in the UK, modern shops are often incorporated into magnificent Victorian buildings. The Briggate still exists, thank goodness, but I rarely visit Leeds and don’t know the area. Have these buildings survived post-war demolition and 1960s modernism? Perhaps, if you live in Leeds, you could provide a photo, so that we can see a then and now comparison?
One of my booklets is about Leeds and includes historical photos from my archive and text from a Victorian travel guide.